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Q’s Reviews – February 21, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro.  A powerful Oscar nominated documentary about the history of racism in the USA.  Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, director Raoul Peck envisions a book noted poet and author James Baldwin never finished.  In 1979, James Baldwin described his next project, “Remember This House” as a book to be a ground breaking, personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his closest friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.   Baldwin’s tremendous command of the English language is highlighted through archival footage as he describes racism and its cost to all.  This is a brilliant historical elegy that needs to be seen by everyone.   Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent images, thematic material, language and brief nudity.  It is a Peggy’s Pick.

Fifty Shades Darker. If you want to see Dakota Johnson (Anastasia) moseying around in her knickers and jumping into the sack with Jamie Dornan (Christian) in his birthday suit, this is the film for you.  Otherwise it is a trite attempt to explain the psychological basis of sadism and its companion, masochism.  Christian struggles with his personal demons.  Anastasia must confront the vengeance of Christian’s exes.  And neither of them recognizes the danger coming from a spurned suitor – that’s for the next film.   Rated R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.

John Wick: Chapter 2.  The dead bodies pile up, the blood splatters, classic cars are mangled but no animals were harmed in this uber violent action thriller.  Keanu Reeves is the indestructible John Wick who can get hit by a fast moving car (several times), outduel dozens of machine gun toting henchmen, survive falls and all sorts of assaults to carry out his mission with nothing more than a few scratches.  If mindless action and violence and homicidal maniacs are your thing, don’t miss this blood bath.  Note, this film sets up a Chapter 3.  Rated R for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity.

A United Kingdom.  The film is based on actual events and provides quite an expose on the real machinations of British Colonial rule.   The film follows the lives of Seretse Khama, an African chieftain from what was then the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana), and a white British woman, Ruth Williams.  They met in 1948 while he was studying law in London.  Their subsequent marriage was highly controversial at the time.  Some of Khama’s own people, led by his uncle, refused to accept Ruth as his wife.  The South African government and its policy of apartheid strongly objected to the idea of a black leader in a neighboring country marrying a white woman.  The British Government did all they could to thwart Khama’s attempt to lead his people, but in the end he outsmarted them all and became a revered leader of his country and its people.  Rated PG-13 for some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality.  It is a Peggy’s Pick.

Q’s Reviews Special Edition – The Best and Worst Films of 2016

This is the 20th Anniversary of Q’s Reviews.  What started as a hobby has now become a labor of love.  Let’s hope for another 20 years.

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The following are movies that Q and Peggy actually saw. There are other films that may be worse, but we did not subject ourselves to them.

The Ten Worst Movies of 2016 (#1 being the worst):

  1. Bad Santa 2
  2. The Bronze
  3. Zoolander II
  4. Pride and Prejudice & Zombies
  5. Ben Hur
  6. Ghostbusters
  7. Keeping Up With the Joneses
  8. Suicide Squad
  9. The Magnificent Seven

 

The Ten Best Movies of 2016:

  1. Hidden Figures
  2. Fences
  3. Manchester By The Sea
  4. Loving
  5. Moonlight
  6. Lion
  7. La La Land
  8. Sully
  9. Arrival
  10. Hacksaw Ridge (with a Peggy Protest)

And movies you probably missed but should have seen – in no particular order.  There are quite a few this year.

  • The Innocents
  • In Order of Disappearance
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Hell or Highwater
  • Neruda
  • Denial
  • A Dog’s Purpose
  • The Founder
  • Patriot’s Day
  • Dangel
  • A Monster Calls
  • Don’t Think Twice
  • Indignation
  • Beatles:  Eight Days a Week …
  • Mr. Church
  • Weiner
  • Deep Water Horizon
  • Queen of Katwe
  • Miss Sloane
  • Allied
  • Edge of Seventeen
  • The Eagle Huntress
  • How to Let Go of the World
  • A Man Called Ove
  • The Man Who Knew Infinity
  • Sing Street
  • Eye In The Sky
  • Race
  • Deadpool
  • How To Be Single
  • Finest Hours
  • All Things Must Pass
  • Where To Invade Next
  • Our Little Sister
  • Harry and Snowman
  • Dark Horse
  • Music of Strangers
  • Hunt For the Wilderpeople
  • Sweet Bean

Q’s Reviews – February 13, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie.  This is a surprisingly good animated version of the Batman Saga.  Batman needs to find his humanity as he battles the Joker to save Gotham City.  Batman is dark and brooding even more so than normal.  He obsesses with watching “Jerry Maguire” by himself in the bat cave.  Batman has to make some changes if he is going to liberate Gotham City from the Joker’s hostile seizure.  With the help of Robin, Batgirl, Alfred and others, Batman figures out his singular vigilante approach isn’t working he needs a team and some cooperation to vanquish Joker.  The characters are all LEGO toys that make wisecracks and poke fun at current cultural icons.  It all works as the voices are well done and the story will keep both kids and adults engaged and laughing.  Rated PG for rude humor and some action.

Q’s Reviews – February 6, 2017

20th Century Women.   Fans of Annette Bening will want to see this film for her great performance as Dorothea, a single mom in 1979 trying to raise a son, Jamie, by her self.  She chain-smokes her way through teenage angst spouting feminist bromides and free love cultural mantras.   Dorothea is helped by Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning) who also influence Jamie’s young life.  Dorothea’s roots in the 1940s and 1950s are contrasted with her current carefree lifestyle.  At its core the film is about family and how we cannot escape its influence on our lives.  Rated R for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use.

The Space Between Us.   A teen adventure/romance film that unfortunately relies on shaky science and a big reveal that is obvious in the first few minutes.  In the not too distant future a space ship leaves on the first mission to colonize Mars.  As they head toward Mars they discover that one of the astronauts is pregnant.   After arriving on Mars she dies in childbirth and never reveals who the father is.  Her son, Gardner Elliot, is the first modern Martian and cannot return to earth.  He grows into a very intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in the Mars colony.  On line he looks for his father, explores Earth and starts an online friendship with a high school girl in Colorado named Tulsa.  When he finally gets to Earth, he finds Tulsa and crams in all the earthly adventures he can with her.  Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s gravity and atmosphere.  So Tulsa and he are up against time to find his father and discover the truth about his life, when they do it’s a big ho hum.  Too bad this isn’t a better movie.  Rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and language.

The Comedian.  Robert De Niro plays an aging insult comic, Jackie Burke.  His life is pretty much a wreck as his fame is 30 years old and his insults became a way of life.  He finds himself with no friends and a family that barely tolerates him.  The only glimmer in his life is Harmony (Leslie Mann) who he meets while they are both doing court ordered community service.  Who makes this movie watchable are Patti Lupone, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, Billie Crystal, Harvey Keitel, Edie Falco, Danny DeVito and a host of comedians who make cameo appearances.  The film is quite raunchy but is also full of uncomfortably guilty laughs.  If constant coarse language and situations don’t bother you, then this is one to see. Rated R for crude sexual references and language throughout.

Neruda.  A marvelous Chilean movie that chronicles a few years in the life of Pablo Neruda.  Neruda was a poet, a statesman, a womanizer, a brilliant writer, a national hero in Chile and a communist.  The story primarily follows his life immediately after World War II when he was a Chilean Senator and then a criminal when the regime outlawed the communist party.  While a fugitive he is hidden by his friends and pursued by Inspector Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal).  His pursuit of Neruda is pure poetry as it has hard to say who is hunting whom.  Their game of cat and mouse is incredible as secrets are revealed.  The film is fascinating with beautiful photography, imaginative dialogue and issues relevant today.   Rated R for sexuality, some nudity and language.  In Spanish and a bit of French with English subtitles.  This is one to find and enjoy.  It is a Peggy’s Pick.

Fun Home.   At the Curran Theatre in San Francisco through February 19, 2017.  This marvelous musical is based on the 2006 Alison Bechdel graphic novel of the same name.  It is autobiographical and a poignant telling of her childhood and the time before and after her father’s suicide.  Three accomplished actors play Alison as a girl, in college and as an adult.  The relationships with her parents, specifically her father, are explored in flashbacks.  As it turns both Alison and her father are gay and their difficulty in coming out is a central theme.  Alison’s discovery of her own sexuality with her friend Joan is both hysterically funny and moving.  Alison as an adult appears to have mastered the mysteries of her life, but her father’s life and death still haunt her.    This is wonderfully crafted musical with great songs and a cast that can sing and act with the very best.  The subject matter is timely and handled well.  This is another one to see.  Suitable for older teens.  It is a Peggy’s Pick.

Q’s Reviews – January 30, 2017

Denial. Based on the celebrated book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” the film details Deborah E. Lipstadt’s (Rachel Weisz) legal battle for historical truth.  British historian David Irving (Timothy Spall) accused Professor Lipstadt of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier.   Sued in Britain, the alleged defamer has the burden of proof.  It was up to Lipstadt and her legal team to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.  The film is a brilliant presentation of real lawyers at work crafting a strategy that will succeed and seeing it through despite pressure to take a different path.  Tom Wilkinson as the lead barrister is tremendous in his superb diction and presentation.  Rated PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language.  It is a Peggy’s Pick.

A Dog’s Purpose. This film is designed to tug at your heartstrings and to make your eyes well up – it succeeds.  The dogs are way too cute as we follow a dog through 4 incarnations starting in the early 1960s.  Bailey is a dedicated retriever, a police dog, a corgi and an oversized mutt who finds his way back to his first owner just in time to heal some old human wounds.  The film is a beautiful telling of the meanings dogs can have on our lives.  Director Lasse Hallström delightfully weaves together these stories of dogs, their lives and their humans into a meaningful whole.  Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril.  Take the kids, they will love it.

Gold. This movie commits the ultimate sin it is boring.   Even Matthew McConaughey can’t save it from itself.   McConaughey is Kenny Wells, a sleazy promoter prospecting for the next big gold find.  He is a two-bit hustler prospector when he teams up with a like-minded geologist and they head to the jungle of Indonesia to find gold.  They hit pay dirt and their company Washoe Mining makes them multi millionaires as speculation runs rampant until it all falls apart.   Based on a real Canadian gold mine gambit, the film just does not connect.  The characters aren’t likeable and they get their just deserts.  Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality and nudity.

The Handmaiden. This is a Korean film that is hard to describe.  It is a thriller, a romance, a mystery and a revenge film in three parts.  Each part recounts the events from a different point of view.  Set in 1930s Korea during the Japanese occupation, a new girl (Sookee) is placed as the handmaiden to Hideko, a Japanese princess.  Hideko lives on a large estate virtually held captive by her sadistic Uncle.  Sookee is actually a trained pickpocket recruited by a crook posing as a Japanese Count to help him seduce Hideko to elope with him, steal her fortune, and then lock her away in an insane asylum. The plan is working until Sookee and Hideko fall in love.  They set in motion a plan so that all of their male tormentors get their comeuppance, in a graphic and horrific way.  The film is full of sexual stories and some graphic tortures.  It is has long Sapphic scenes as Sookee and Hideko explore their love.  The film is beautifully made and quite an experience but certainly not for everyone.   Not rated by would likely be NC-17 for sexual content.  In Korean and Japanese with English subtitles.

Toni Erdman. This is a German film that is advertised as a comedy but is really about father daughter relationships.  It certainly has its comic moments but also speaks volumes about a father’s love and worry for his daughter.  Winfried wants to see more of his hard working daughter Ines.  He drops in on her in Bucharest, where she works as a corporate strategist.   Her work is her life and she has no other life.  Her father is a life long practical joker and he bothers Ines with corny pranks that poke fun at her work-centered life of meetings and paperwork.  Winfried creates an alter ego, Toni Erdmann (think Andy Kaufman) who wears tacky clothes, an ill-fitting wig, fake teeth and a pushy personality.  The two clash and have a number of adventures that ultimately draw them closer together.  Ines decides to throw a last minute naked birthday party that only a bunch of Germans could pull off but her dad shows up in a Bulgarian Wood Monster costume that just adds to the mayhem.  The film is just sheer madness but Ines and her eccentric father finally realize they want to be in one another’s life.  Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use.  In German and Rumanian with English subtitles.

Q’s Reviews -January 23, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage.   Endless over the top chase scenes are all that this movie is about.   There is some sort of story to drive the action sequences but the plot is just an excuse for more insane chases and near misses.  Xander Cage, ace government operative (Vin Diesel), is on a collision course with the deadly Xiang (Donnie Yen).  Xander and his crew are racing to recover an unstoppable device called Pandora’s Box.   If you like mindless mayhem and impossible action sequences this is the film for you.  Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language.

Live By Night.   Ben Affleck wrote, directed and starred in this vanity piece about 1920s gangsters.  The film rambles over a long stretch of time and just does not connect.  The best parts of the film are the period costumes and the vintage automobiles.  Otherwise a well dressed but hulking Ben Affleck tries his best to play a bad guy, he just can’t pull if off.  Set in Boston as the 1920s are roaring, liquor and mobsters are everywhere.   Affleck is Joe Coughlin, the son of a well-known Irish Boston police captain.  Joe is a petty thief, but graduates to working for an Italian mob family.  Joe climbs the ladder of crime and is sent to Tampa to oversee the rum trade for the family.   The cast is amazing as Joe handles rumrunners, femmes fatales, Bible thumping evangelists, The Klan and Irish Mobsters.  They are all seeking their piece of the American dream.  The film has a love story, a revenge tale and some nifty shoot-outs, but is just too contrived as it sprawls over too much territory.  Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality and nudity.

The Founder.   The film celebrates American hucksterism at its best.  Michael Keaton is Ray Kroc, who basically stole the McDonald’s system and brand from the McDonald brothers and turned it into an international powerhouse as a food service and real estate empire.  Ray Kroc was selling milk shake machines out of his car when he discovered the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino running their  innovative fast food restaurant.  Kroc was ambitious, persistent and ruthless as he set about first to franchise McDonald’s.  Then with the help of some well-connected and bright business associates, Kroc took over the company and bought out the brothers for a song.  Keaton is amazing as Kroc and captures his drive and mania well.  Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the unfortunate McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, make us feel for them as they see their baby stolen.  Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

Julieta.   Spanish Director Pedro Almodóvar brings us another intriguing story of mothers and daughters.  Julieta (Emma Suarez) is a 40ish woman living in Madrid with Lorenzo.  They are about to move to Portugal when Julieta runs into Bea, a former best friend of her daughter Antia.  Julieta has not heard from Antia in 12 years and Bea reveals that Antia is living in Switzerland, is married and has three children. Julieta ‘s heart broken is broken and she cancels the move to Portugal.  She hastily moves back to her former abode in hopes that Antia might communicate with her at a known address.  Julieta begins to write a  letter to Antia that recounts the story that leads up to their estrangement.  Her story is filled with grief and pain, joy and success.  But there is a fundamental misunderstanding that is slowly revealed.  As Julieta reconnects with old friends her despair begins to lift.  Then a letter from Antia arrives explaining how grief in her life has begun to repair the rupture between them.  Antia supplies her return address and hope is reborn.  A complex and enjoyable tale that is also sumptuously photographed as only Almodóvar can do.  Rated R for some sexuality and nudity.  In Spanish with English subtitles.

Finding Neverland.  The story of how James M. Barrie created his masterpiece, Peter Pan, is at the Orpheum in San Francisco through February 12, 2017.   The background story is told through song and dance.  Playwright Barrie finds inspiration when he meets four young brothers and their lovely widowed mother. The boys captivate him with their make-believe adventures.  Barrie sets out to write a play about boys who don’t grow up,  the adventures of youth and the wonder of it all.  Along the way he creates Captain Hook , Tinkerbelle, the lost boys, a crocodile with a clock, pixie dust and a play that still works it magic 113 years after its first performance.   But this play is a bit choppy as parts drag, but when Captain Hook shows up, the fun begins.  Suitable for the whole family.

Q’s Reviews – January 17, 2017

Elle.   A French psycho-thriller starring Isabelle Huppert for which she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress and the film also won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film.  Before you rush out to see this film, be forewarned it is about violent rape.  Isabelle plays Michèle who owns a video game company that specializes in making games filled with extreme sex and violence.  She routinely sleeps with her best friend’s husband, her personal sex tastes are bizarre, her father is a convicted serial killer and by the way she doesn’t seem to care about being raped.  All of these quirks don’t add up to explain her baffling behaviors.  Michèle‘s unknown assailant rapes her several times in her home.  These assaults gravely upset the rhythms of her life.  When she discovers the rapist’s identity they are both drawn into a questionable fantasy game that is both unbelievable and doomed to lead to disaster.  If you like dark, very dark satire and unnecessarily complex plots you may want to find this convoluted film.  Rated R for violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, and language.  In French with English subtitles.

Things to Come (L’avenir)  Isabelle Huppert (again) stars as Nathalie who teaches philosophy at a high school in Paris.  She is a zealous teacher who passionately instills in her students the joy of thinking.  She is married with two children and spends all of her time teaching, being a possessive mother, coaching former students, and verbally sparring with her husband who is also a teacher of philosophy.  Out of the blue, Nathalie’s husband announces he is leaving and moving in with his paramour.  Nathalie all of a sudden finds herself free of societal restraints and begins to reinvent her life.  She visits a retreat for anarchists and does some major soul searching.  She becomes a grandmother and we sense she is finding happiness again, especially when quoting all of the great philosophers.  This film is just a nice slice of Gallic life, like cheese and wine.  Rated PG-13 for brief language and drug use.  In French with English subtitles.

Patriot’s Day.  The film is a chilling recounting of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath.  The film also elucidates in great detail the citywide manhunt to find the responsible terrorists.  The interactions among the local and state police in and around Boston, the FBI, swat teams and terror specialists are fascinating as they compete and find it difficult to communicate; but in the end Boston Pride brings them together to find the creeps.  The people are real and believable led by Mark Wahlberg as Boston Police Sergeant Saunders who is battling a drinking problem but rises to the occasion to save the day.  The film at its core is about people coming together to step up to a challenge.  Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use.  It is a Peggy’s Pick.

Silence.  Martin Scorsese has made an overly long (2 hours and 45 minutes) saga about two Portuguese Priests in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson) in 1640 Japan.  The two missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) must face the supreme tests of their faith as they travel through Japan when Christianity is outlawed and their mere presence is banned.  They must confront horrible tortures inflicted on their converts.  The Japanese Inquisitor and his men inflict agonizing deaths and cruel treatments on anyone thought to be Christian.   The priests are profoundly tested with differing results.  The movie is beautifully photographed but is too long and is way too preachy.  The best parts of the film are the dialogues between the Inquisitor and Father Rodriguez (Andrew Garfield) as Eastern and Western philosophies are debated.  The entire time I was sitting through this paean to Catholicism I could not help to be reminded of what these same priests would be doing to the Jews at home on the Iberian peninsula – even more exquisite tortures.  The film is worth seeing to experience a master at work.  Rated R for very disturbing violent and gruesome content.

Monster Trucks.   The film is just silly fun full of clichés, truck chases, bad guys, good guys and a nifty critter.  Set in small town North Dakota, Tripp (Lucas Till) is a high school senior looking for anyway to get out of town and have a life.   He is building a Monster Truck from used parts and pieces of wrecked cars.  His cute tutor Meredith (Jane Levy) is fascinated by Tripp and his truck project.  A nearby oil-drilling site explodes and a strange subterranean creature with multiple tentacles and a taste for oil flees and finds its way to Tripp’s garage.  Tripp names the creature “Creech”.  Creech loves the monster truck and not only lives in the truck but can power it to great speeds and enhanced capabilities.  The bad guys from the oil company want to capture Creech but Tripp, Meredith and friends will make sure that does not happen.  The action starts and the fun begins.  Take the kids and grandkids, they will love it.   Rated PG for action, peril, brief scary images, and some rude humor.